barbaric bombing of a Spanish passenger train followed by the public
hearings of the commission investigating the events of 9-11 has refocused
attention on the so-called “war” on terrorism.
The Spanish tragedy reminds us that the terrorist enemy does not fit the tightly structured and organized paradigm that the U.S. associates with the terrorist threat. Spanish police accuse members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group as responsible for the attack. Some members have ties to al Qaida. But whether the plot was hatched by bin Laden in the mountain caves of Pakistan or Afghanistan is doubtful.
During the Cold War, the U.S. believed that all liberation struggles were planned either in Moscow or Beijing. In reality, insurgencies like Vietnam were based on indigenous nationalism and the historical experience of the rebellious people. It’s the same with terrorism. Al Qaida may have been responsible for 9/11 and may be a key component of a terrorist network; but it doesn’t take central planning or a complex infrastructure to bomb a train or blow up a building. Think of our homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh as the operative model. All it takes is a couple of crazies with access to simple bomb-making technology to kill a lot of people.
Significantly, the terrorists in Spain issued no statement to explain their bombing. Al Qaida and allied groups have no assets, no specific demands. They offer no opportunity for diplomacy or negotiation. Unlike true liberationist movements fighting against colonialist exploitation, these Muslim extremists advance no program except religious intolerance. Their hatred of the West is absolute, not just our heritage of the Enlightenment, especially our religious tolerance and modernist culture, but for what the Western world did to them in history, hundreds of years ago.
Especially disturbing about the Spanish bombing was that some of the perpetrators were under police surveillance. I’ll come back to this point later.
Finally, regarding Spain, the new Spanish government, which vows to withdraw its small contingent of troops from Iraq if the U.S. doesn’t seek UN support, isn’t abandoning the “war” on terrorism as the Bush administration charges. By shifting its troops to Afghanistan and the fight against bin Laden, where NATO is involved with UN backing, it’s engaging in the international effort to stop terrorism. Which brings us to Richard Clarke and his testimony before the commission.
Counter-terrorism expert Clarke, a veteran of the Reagan, first Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush administrations, raised two important points. The first is that the G.W. Bush administration didn’t heed his warnings about the threat of al Qaida; and the second, echoing Spanish prime minister-elect Zapatero, is that there is a war on terrorism that needs to be fought, but that Bush’s war in Iraq is not contributing to it. Indeed, it has drawn resources away from the real war on terrorism and undermined the international cooperation that is necessary for effectively carrying it out.
The Bush administration has made George W.’s role of commander-in-chief the defining point of his presidency. Hence any criticism of the Iraqi war strikes at the heart of his leadership and is viewed as a partisan assault on his re-election.
Characteristically, the administration reacted to Clarke’s criticisms with an all out assault on his motives and character. Administration spokespeople accused him of angling for a job with the Kerry campaign, harboring racist feelings towards Condi Rice, and of being an opportunist and a liar. The assault reached a nadir of absurdity when Dick Cheney, appearing on the Russ Limbaugh show, said that Clarke was “out of the loop” when it came to administration discussions about the terrorist threat. What does it say about an administration that freezes out its designated expert on counter-terrorism when formulating policy about counter-terrorism?
But opponents of Bush who embrace Clarke as one of their own are also guilty of political opportunism. Clarke, after all, is a conservative hawk, a self-proclaimed Republican. Food for thought: If he was able to pre-emptively strike at the terrorist infrastructure, as he advocated, those of us who now honor him for his credibility would have been in the streets calling him a murderer. Whether pre-emptive strikes would have prevented 9/11 or broken the will of the terrorists is, as he himself acknowledges, questionable. The more crucial point of his testimony, meshing with what we know about the neo-conservative foreign policy agenda, provides additional evidence that the war in Iraq is motivated by oil, geopolitics and ideological factors.
The real war on terrorism is primarily a police and intelligence effort with its success dependent upon institutional and international cooperation. Spanish police, like American intelligence before 9/11, had, as I said, at least some of the terrorists under surveillance. This suggests that there has to be a way for police to make arrests when they suspect that a terrorist attack is coming. Because it’s likely that innocent people will be swept up in these kinds of pre-emptive arrests, civil liberty safeguards have to be protected.
It’s time to scrap the Patriot Act, which, like the Iraqi War itself, is based more on the administration’s pre-set ideology than any concern for the threat of terrorism. What needs to be done to protect innocent people from terrorist bombs and barbarity? I would like a commission, including police and intelligence officials as well as civil libertarians, to come up with an exacting policy. Such a policy must come from an administration that has credibility, believes in civil liberties, and is focused on reality. That’s reason enough to get Bush out of office. When it comes to combating terrorism, the Bush administration has undermined the international cooperation necessary to make counter-terrorism effective and pursued a war in Iraq that has very little to with actually combating terrorism. Indeed, in unnecessarily inflaming anti-Western sentiment, the Bush administration encourages Islamic extremism and more autonomous, decentralized, and hence more dangerous terrorist networks.
Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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